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Religious Toleration in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age

An Anthology of Literary, Theological, and Philosophical Texts

Albrecht Classen

More than ever before do we need the critical engagement with religious tolerance. Historical perspectives allow us to gain access to the discourse on this universal, often very contested topic. Already the Middle Ages and the early modern age witnessed the emergence of significant voices addressing toleration, if not even tolerance. This anthology opens many new perspectives toward this centrally important topic, adding a cultural-historical, religious, literary, and philosophical dimension mostly unknown today.

„Albrecht Classen reminds us in this volume that, "we all know just too well that the survival of the human species and its future development depends existentially on its ability and willingness to subscribe to the fundamental ideals of at least toleration, if not tolerance." As with others of Classen's works on the full range of medieval and early modern culture, this book could not be more timely or more urgently needed, especially for its positive approach to a highly volatile topic."

Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, Omaha, NE

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Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Nathan der Weise – True Tolerance?


The following is an excerpt from Lessing’s famous play Nathan der Weise, or Nathan the Wise, first published in 1779, but since the Protestant Church forbade it for sometime, it was not performed until after Lessing’s death (1781), in Berlin in 1783. The reading public had been very anxious to receive the text, and Lessing was under great time pressure to produce it according to the announced printing schedule. The first print-run appeared at Easter in May 1779, the second in October of the same year, with some corrections and changes. A third edition appeared at the end of the year, which remained the basis for all future editions of the text. At the same time two pirated editions were printed, which all underscores the enormous and immediate popularity of Nathan der Weise. Unfortunately, Lessing’s original manuscript is lost, but he was closely involved in the creation of the new editions.177 The entire play does not need to be presented here, but it deserves to be briefly summarized so that we have a good framework for the following parable told by the Jew Nathan, called the Wise.

In this play, Lessing, a famous German playwright of the Enlightenment period, stages the life of this enormously intriguing Jew, whom the poet obviously modeled after his friend Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), a major German-Jewish philosopher. The basic motif with the three rings Lessing had borrowed from Boccaccio’s tale in the Decameron (Day 1:3), but there were numerous...

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